I almost quit last night. Like all things jiu-jitsu, the hard follows the positive like a hammer follows a nail, and after the slightest feeling that one has achieved a modicum of success follows the crushing realization that you have nothing. After such a great training experience at Maui Jiu-Jitsu Academy I decided to forego my plan of trying another school on the island so that I could return to Haiku for another night. Last night was undoubted the most difficult one hour and thirty minutes that I have had to get through intact. I only made it through the support of my training partners and a bit of sheer willpower.
What I loved about the academy from my previous visit was how it focused on traditional techniques and fundamentals that I need grounding in. My first class focused on pressure, and the second class focused on an area I also needed work in: takedowns from standing position. There are many reasons while takedowns take a backseat in most bjj sports classes (safety, applicability, and that students might prefer to go to Wrestling, judo or sambo for those specific maneuvers). Last night, the lesson taught double leg takedowns and the sprawl counter. For me, this was a perfect lesson to learn…except that the warm-up smashed me to pieces and I never really recovered.
Drills are tough. They are meant to be tough. The warm up is sometimes to warm the muscles to avoid injuries, but sometimes it is meant to push the student hard. Unlike Tuesday’s class, Thursday’s class had a good number of upper belts. The drills ramped up to meet their needs. I began sucking air and heating up almost immediately, and I just could not get my breathing back to normal. I kept up mostly, but keeping up took every bit of energy and willpower that I possessed. This part of class was good; the drills showed me how far I have to go to balance out my age with the basic demands of bjj. Still, I kept up. I was the weak soldier, but no one had to carry me.
I will admit that my training partners did support me, and what I appreciated most about the academy was that even though I was an unknown white belt every person tried to give me a little bit of themselves so that I could keep going. One might say that he was impressed I would put myself through this on vacation, another might roll with me with the mantra of “we are just aiming to keep our muscles warm”, another took the time to guide me through the entire takedown process as my partner while a black belt looked on and gave us adjustment points. Maui Jiu-Jitsu Academy is a team who knows the value of keeping the weak links from breaking.
Learning takedowns was interesting. I coach contact rugby to twelve year old boys, so the basic premises seemed similar in a few ways. I also studied judo very briefly when I was twelve years old. The only thing I learned was how to break fall properly; we practiced falling for three months straight, I think. Did I come away with a technique to learn and develop? Absolutely. I was even able to see those moves reflected in the Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes fight. When McGregor sprawled on the takedown I immediately recognized the application. I have much to learn, but this lesson was a good start.
Rolling was brutal. If I had seen progress on Tuesday night, I saw failures on Thursday night. I simply could not breathe. I simply could not handle pressure, and my partner had excellent pressure despite being a lighter opponent. I never recovered from the drills, both my heart rate and temperature were too high and I just sucked wind. I saw the door calling my name, but my partner helped me get through the round. Next, a brown belt encouraged me to just flow roll with him for practice, and kept encouraging me to use less strength because my breathing indicated that I was trying to use strength. I did not have the heart to correct him by sharing how the drills killed me, and his point was true nonetheless. He helped me find a sweep from beneath his mount, and I felt myself slowly recovering. I sat out a round to drink a litre of water and try to cool off, but came back for a third round. The final round went well enough as my partner was also fairly exhausted. I kept him in half guard for a long time with a figure four lockdown and a collar grip. Submissions were unthinkable for me; I just wanted to make it to the final line up to shake hands. I did.
In the end, I took away a great many lessons from the toughness of this class. I saw how decimated the students at the Maui academy are to their team. I also started seeing the new holes developed by where I had just closed the old ones. Still, I feel proud to have trained here and it will be a pivotal step in my journey towards a blue belt down the long road ahead. I may have been smashed all night long, but it was done by kindred spirits and I was never broken.